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Head Lice in Children


Head lice are tiny bugs that live and feed on blood from your child's scalp. They are tan, gray, or brown, and are about the size of a sesame seed. They lay eggs (nits) and attach the eggs to your child's hair.



  • Lice medicine: These are used to kill head lice. You can buy lice shampoo, lotion, or cream without a doctor's order. Apply these medicines to your body. Use them as directed. Do not use these products on children under 2 years old. Throw away all lice medicine that you do not use. Keep it away from your eyes.
  • Give your child's medicine as directed. Call your child's healthcare provider if you think the medicine is not working as expected. Tell him if your child is allergic to any medicine. Keep a current list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs your child takes. Include the amounts, and when, how, and why they are taken. Bring the list or the medicines in their containers to follow-up visits. Carry your child's medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Comb out lice:

Comb your child's wet hair with a fine-tooth comb. Do this every 3 or 4 days for 2 weeks to remove all lice as they hatch. Wet combing may be the only treatment recommended for children younger than 2 years. To help remove eggs, soak your child's hair in equal parts water and white vinegar. Then wrap a towel around your child's head for 15 minutes. Remove the towel and comb his hair with a fine-tooth comb.

Manage head lice:

  • Try to keep your child from scratching his scalp. Trim his fingernails or have him wear soft gloves or mittens if scratching is a problem.
  • Use lice medicines and wet combing until there are no more lice on his head.
  • Do not shave your child's hair.
  • Do not use pet products, acetone, bleach, kerosene or other flammable products to kill lice.

Prevent the spread of lice:

  • Wash clothes and bedding: Wash all clothes, towels, sheets, and hats used by your child in the past 2 days in hot, soapy water. Dry them on the hot cycle for at least 20 minutes. Items that cannot be washed or dry cleaned should be sealed in an airtight plastic bag for 2 weeks. Vacuum furniture, rugs, carpets, car seats, and other fabrics.
  • Disinfect personal items: Soak combs, brushes, and other hair items in lice medicine or hot water. Wash lice combs and clothing your child wore during each lice treatment and after each combing.
  • Check family members for lice: Treat those who have lice at the same time. Do not share personal items or bedding.
  • Tell your child's school or daycare center: They will tell other families that their children may have been exposed to lice. Your child can return to school after he has used lice medicine.

Follow up with your child's healthcare provider as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your child's visits.

Contact your child's primary healthcare provider if:

  • You still see lice after 2 days of treatment.
  • Your child's bites become filled with pus or crusty.
  • Your child's hair is matted and has a bad smell.
  • Your child's scalp burns, stings, or is numb after using the lice medicine.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Return to the emergency department if:

  • Your child becomes more irritable or fussy than normal.
  • Your child is dizzy, has nausea or vomiting, or a seizure after using lice medicine.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Learn more about Head Lice in Children (Aftercare Instructions)

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